Interview: Strings 24

Guglielmo Malusardi: First of all, let's start with each of you introducing yourself.

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: I started playing guitar at 14 and I immediately joined a local band so, even if I was a beginner, I was already playing with other musicians. I started the band UTEZ in 1987 and we achieved pretty huge success in our area until the
middle of 1990, when we disbanded. I recorded many demos and some CDs with various bands, the I started playing clinics for Gibson guitars, then for Ibanez and other brands.
I recorded many jingles and soundtracks for TV shows, plus the Dracula musical guitar parts, then I started the Strings 24 project with Frank and Gian in 2008.

Frank Caruso: I started in 1981, I was a kid and I recorded my first record! It was a 45 RPM vinyl record. A little later I started my first school band, it was 1985 and I named it Firehouse, we made an album in 1989. In the meantime I started my collaboration with some TV networks for commercials and soundtracks; that became one of my first activities.

In 1997, the band Arachnes was born, a prog band I still play with. We recorded 8 albums (the next one will be with Nightmare Records at the end of the year) all distributed worldwide, we also put some songs on complitaions with bands such as Startovarius and Angra.

My first solo album, "Kaleidoscope", was released in 2007, and then I recorded the gothic/medieval project called Darklight in 2008. In the same year I recorded several soundtracks for big cartoon productions (Gormiti/Bakugan) as a session man and
composer. But in 2007 the Strings 24 adventure started, so everything was put aside!

Gianluca Ferro: I started playing at the beginning of the high school, I had a band called Shake, we played Iron Maiden and Beatles covers and some original tunes, then I joined a '70s rock cover band, the Black Thunder. I got into progressive music in 1996
with the band Arkhe, and we recorded an album in 1997. After that I started playing with Time Machine and Doomsword. In 2000 I started teaching guitar full time, and I released my first solo album, "Involution", in 2005. In those years I often played abroad and I also had collaborations with Kiko Loureiro, Scott McGill and Andre
Matos. After that, I recorded a CD with Heart of Sun and I finally started the Strings 24 project.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did the idea for Strings 24 come about?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: That's pretty simple! I met Frank in 1980 at college, so we shared great guitar excitement in those years, then we went our own ways and we met again thanks to MySpace in 2006. We had dinner together and we left each other
saying, "We should play together one day."

Then we decided to write something and we asked Gian to join this project. We were looking for something different to create separation between us and the other thousands of shredders in the world, so we decided to use the 8-string guitar. After that we wrote a lot of material and we made the Strings 24 album as you can
now hear!

Gianluca Ferro: I was firstly contacted by Frank through MySpace. I knew him from his musical career, but I had never met him before. He asked if I was available to join a band with Sebo, who I had known for several years and who was my guitar teacher for a while. Initially we were thinking about four guitar players for this project, but we were happy as a trio, so we "closed the number" of band elements.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Can you explain to the readers the basic differences between an 8-string guitar and a standard 6-string guitar, or even with a 7-string guitar?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, thanks to the huge support of Ibanez guitars, we received one 8-string guitar each! This is a beautiful instrument, made by the Prestige factory in Japan, very
precise in every detail! Compared to a standard tuned 6-string guitar, you have a low B string (same as a 7-string guitar) and a very low F sharp! That means having a 0.64 or 0.68 low string, pretty huge! This guitar has a fixed bridge, being very similar to the Ibanez Lo Pro Edge tremolo bridge. Actually I think that's a good choice, because you would have a lot of tuning problems with the lower strings with a tremolo system, plus you have the possibility to tune your guitar in different ways very easily. This instrument is
equipped with EMG active pickups, those models were made for 6-string basses and they work great on the RG2228. The fretboard is pretty large, but Ibanez made a super playable action and after a few sessions you'll find this guitar very comfortable to play, I swear!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you think that the 8-string guitar will eventually have a big role in the guitar scene?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: The 8-string guitar is something different; I don't think it's going to replace the 6-string guitar, but it represents something useful to create something different, to reach
different tones like you can with stuff like the e-bow, the sustainer, the whammy pedal and so on.

We don't use the RG2228 on every song, but when you grab it and you start playing you play in a different way, you try different riffs, just like you would when you tune the low string down to D on a 6-string guitar. It sounds different, so you are inspired by that sound, it lets you be more creative.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did the writing process evolve? Did you decide beforehand on the "all for one and one for all" triple soloing moments in each tune?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, every one of us wrote some material for the album, then we shared the various tracks and every one of us added something to the other guys tracks. We
decided to avoid using the same harmonization method on all three guitar parts. You can hear something like classic rock, something pretty neo-classical, something in a wind instrument style ("Go Down Peter") and other sounds.

We decided to add one solo song for each of us, and you might think, "Are you insane? You just played thousand of notes together!" Actually we wanted to display clearly our different styles, plus we gave ourselves the possibility to play an entire song, taking responsibility for all of the musical and melodic content.

Gianluca Ferro: Everyone brought some songs, providing details about the structures and the solo spaces, plus all the harmonized parts to share between us. It was pretty natural for us
to understand the perfect style for every part, so we never fought when assigning song parts!

Guglielmo Malusardi: During the recording process, once rhythmic parts and solos were recorded, did everyone sent the files to the other two for approval?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Some parts were written by one of us, then the other two played their parts with their styles, and that was amazing! You write a song and you play it, then you can
listen to how different it is if another musician plays the same notes! Very exciting! We were always in touch about harmonies and songs structure, up until we finished the whole CD.

Gianluca Ferro: We often shared the files just to give each other a preview, but every one of us recorded what he thought was right, so there was a lot of freedom, with no strong approval procedure. This is the reason at some points the album sounds like a jam. We spent a lot of time picking up CDs in our mailbox at home, because the project files were pretty big!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you record some stuff together?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Not live, we were often in the same studio, but we recorded our parts separately.

Gianluca Ferro: Nope, everyone recorded alone, unfortunately our schedules don't match!

Guglielmo Malusardi: I think it would be great if each guitarist commented on the tracks that they composed.

Frank Caruso: "Introspective". Itπs the 8-string guitar introduction, the initial provocation! We think everyone would expect hyper-distorted power chords, Meshuggah style, so we choose a
clean sound on purpose. The pedal note is an F, never heard before from an electric guitar, then we move through the entire frequency spectrum this guitar can deliver.

Gianluca Ferro: "Outraged Dimensions". This song is pretty heavy and complicated, maybe the most 8-string oriented, we actually used our Ibanez RG2228 to develope a pretty difficult riff progression. You can find a lot of different moments in this song, I
think it represents (in a good way) our essence.

Frank Caruso: "Running In The Wind". It's revenge of the guitar! Solos run behind each other within a neo-classical
atmosphere (the most traditional for guitar heroes), but then the three guitars meet to create parallel harmonies in a very singable way. Solos are pretty technical but they're always nice to listen to, we used a typical vocal song structure.

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: "Double D". This song is a kind of classic metal tune, with a simple theme harmonized with
three guitars and a melodic chorus. The main riff of this song is in the key of B, it's played using a 7-string guitar. I got this particular guitar as a gift from my friend Doug Doppler, a Favored
Nations artist endorsed by Ibanez guitars as well. The title comes from his name.

Gianluca Ferro: "Schizophrenic Disorders". Now things get more complicated, especially rhythmically speaking. Use of the 7-string guitar lets us create a very powerful riff, tuned low, with kinda funky accents. The theme is epic and drives to a speed picking chorus, something in a Malmsteen/Symphony Xstyle. I tried to play in a very clean and precise way, placing these solos over a very heavy and dark rhythm part.

Frank Caruso: "Remember Blues". We didn't wanna make a metal album for guitar players. For this reason, a blues
sauce is a must, but we put harmonized themes in it! The intro is clearly Hendrix-oriented, then we have a little improvisation before going to the harmonized chorus, Strings 24 style. Our guest in this tune is Alex Del Vecchio playing the Hammond, the only keyboard track on the entire album, thanks Alex!

Gianluca Ferro: "Mystical Thoughts". It's a song full of harmonizations and different atmospheres that changes frequently. We have different keys during the song, using mainly the Lydian mode to give a kind of a dreaming mood. I wanted the chorus to communicate the enthusiasm I feel when we play together and I think you can get this when you listen to it!

Frank Caruso: "G String Song". My nickname in the band is "the classic one", and this song is a melodic ballad with a pretty classic feel, also due to the harmonic structure, all based around G.
The title was made thinking about that, while also remembering the Aria on the fourth string (from a certain guy named Bach guy).

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: "Psychedelic". This song has a lot of dissonant sounds inside, starting from the intro, then through
the solo parts, especially Gian's solos. The structure is simple, the riff is powerful and heavy rock oriented, so it's a good song to show our three different styles.

Gianluca Ferro: "Flown". I wanted a song with a light feel, like something flying away, this is the reason of the suspended and modulating harmony and the various arpeggio sections. "Flown" is another one of the prog tunes on the album, with a lot of different sections celebrating each of our personal styles.

Gianluca Ferro: "Besides Nowhere". It's a melodic song with a romantic touch - I'm gettin' old!

Frank Caruso: "Go Down Peter!". It's our guitar challenge, showing how three guitars with a wah pedal can
replicate a wind instrument section! The harmony is pretty complex, with diminished fourths and seconds, like you'll usually hear with brass parts. The wah effect lets us imitate what is called "forcella" in the brass world; that means the dynamic effect they use when they play a single note louder and louder.

Guglielmo Malusardi: That last piece was heard in the Blues Brothers movies. Why did you choose that piece to cover?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, we wanted a very famous song, I mean a song not known exclusively by musicians, and we also know rock guitar is a very popular sound. Every rock version of pop or folk songs is always well accepted, simply because rock is cool! We also were looking for a song with a complete wind instrument section to replace with guitars, so the Peter Gunn Theme was perfect!

Frank Caruso: For two reasons. The first one is we like the fun idea this song has; inside the Blues Brothers movie it catches perfectly the friendship between the main characters. The second reason is we like the wind section harmony, so we wanted to do it with guitars!

interview pic

Guglielmo Malusardi: Of course is not all the music played with the 8-string guitar. Would you list the guitars used by each of you?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Here are the songs on which we used the RG2228 8-string guitar: "Introspective", "Outraged Dimensions", "G String Song", "Flown" and "Go Down Peter". Then we have two songs with a 7-string guitar based riff, they are: "Schizophrenic Disorders" and "Double D". On these and all the other tracks we also used various 6-string guitars, here is a complete description of our guitars set for this album:

Sebo: Ibanez RG2228, RG550XX, RG Sebo Custom, SZ1220, S7420, VBT700. Frank: Ibanez RG2228, RG2550, S520EX, RG7321. Gian: RG2228, UV777, RG550, RG1527

Gianluca Ferro: I used the RG2228 on "Outraged Dimensions" and "Go Down Peter", the other instruments I played were an Ibanez RG1527 and an old RG550 with Seymour Duncan pick ups.

Frank Caruso: I used the RG2228 on the intro to "Introspective", "Outraged Dimensions" and "Go Down Peter", then I used an Ibanez 7-String 7321, an RG2550 Prestige and one
Ibanez S Series.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What about amps, pedals and effects?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: That's pretty simple, we used a lot of Line 6 stuff! POD X3 Live, Gear Box Plugin, Floor Pod Plus, UX8 audio device. In a few cases we did some reamping.

Gianluca Ferro: I used a Peavy 5150 head, a Marshall JCM900 and a Fender Hot Rod Combo. Pedals were an MXR ZW44 and a Dyna Comp, then we added other effects during the mix.

Frank Caruso: All my amp and effects are from Line 6, with a great POD X3 Live. All the modulation effects are from Waves, and the compression stuff was handled by the great Sonnox.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Who else contributed to the recording process?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Gabriele Baroni played bass on every song, except on "Remember Blues" and "Go Down Peter", those were played by Lorenzo Feliciati. Alessandro Del Vecchio played Hammond on "Remember Blues" both solo and arrangements. We initially used Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0 sofware to create all the drums parts, then Roberto Gualdi played real drums on the whole album. That was a great addition! His musical approach gave to the album a lot of dynamics and power!

Frank Caruso: As I said, we also have to thank the great Alex Del Vecchio and his Hammond. Last but not least, our collaboration with Luca Pilla of Computer Music and Project Studio magazine. He performed all the mastering work using very high level studio processors.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You offered to guitar fans a sort of prelistening of the tracks, at the fourth edition of Guitar Day, on the 8th of June, 2008, just before the Paul Gilbert headlining live act. What was it like playing before such enthusiastic guitar fans?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, that was a great opportunity for us of course, but we know this is the musical scenario we're going to perform in most of the time. A guitar project is perfect for
clinics, master classes, guitar festivals, music shows - and G3!

Frank Caruso: It was a great experience! The audience was very enthusiast and right after our performance Paul Gilbert played his show! It was hard to believe we were starting the project just a few months before!

Guglielmo Malusardi: What do you admire the most of each other?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, we love our styles and we respect each other a lot! We're not rivals at all, we're conscious our project is different because of the three different styles, so we don't wanna try to play the same, we're proud of our own things and that represents our originality on this project! I think Gian has a terrific technique, I define his style as a liquid one, because it seems his notes are falling like water from a cascade, very fluid! He is the most "complicated" of the band harmonically and compositionally speaking. I could make a whole album with the ideas he puts on one song!

Frank is a great shredder as well, and old and new influences are perfectly mixed in his style. He is very precise, very tasty and very talented as a sound engineer too! My style is the most classic rock, I'm considered a shredder due to this album, but I could be compared to Gary Moore if I recorded solo! I love tone, I love fixed bridge guitars that let you have that bite on riffs and very powerful double note bendings!

Gianluca Ferro: Being honest, a lot of things! Sebo has a powerful style and he's able to always find the right notes, he has great taste! Frank is a very technical player, but sometimes I'm impressed by his expressive ability! He's a master with the combination of half tone bending/slide and hammer on/pull off!

Frank Caruso: Gian is a funabolic player; he's able to create impossible phrases, but always clear and precise. His style is always funny and dynamic, like his mind! Sebo has a killer vibrato, his pentatonic is always powerful and his phrasing is never obvious, he's a great riff machine! I have maximum respect for both of them, every one of us knows when he has to step back to leave space for the other guys, that's so important!

Guglielmo Malusardi: What kind of music do you most like to listen to?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Gian is a prog metal guy, but he also likes classic rock and fusion stuff. Frank has a degree in sacred music(!), he also loves classic hard rock bands. I love '70s, '80s, '90s rock and all these new bands with a huge tone and melodic vocal parts, people like Avenged Sevenfold, Three Days Grace, Nickelback, Seether, they're all great!

Gianluca Ferro: I usually listen to music in my car, sometimes I'm in an experimental phase, so I go for stuff like Sikth, or Indukti. Recently I started listening to Zu, a great Italian band. Sometimes, if I'm on the road, I like good rock music, often Richie Kotzen or somtihing like Dark New Day.

Frank Caruso: I always listened to everything, but of course my favorite stuff is rock/metal. I listen to classical music, both symphonic and piano based. My favorite composers are Bach and Chopin, unbeatable for their melodic themes.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Name three of your favorite guitarists.

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Wow, only three? I wish I could name three thousand! Let's see... I would say Marty Friedman, Andy Timmons and Zakk Wylde, but I'm sorry for not having the chance to mention the other 2,997 I would put at the same level!

Gianluca Ferro: Allan Holdsworth, Ritchie Kotzen, Steve Vai.

Frank Caruso: We start with Richie Blackmore, my first love, the driving force behind Yngwie Malmsteen and, lately, into Joe Satriani and Vinnie Moore, always half way between technical and melody and all with classical influences. Do you wonder why they call me "the classic one"? He, he, he!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Name three of your favorite guitar solos ever.

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: That's cool! I love this question!
"Another Brick In The Wall" (David Gilmour), "Beat It" (Eddie Van Halen), "Gli Angeli" (Mike Landau).

Gianluca Ferro: My favorite solos are "Comfortably Numb" by David Gilmour, "Beat It" by Eddie Van Halen and "In The Dead Of The Night" by Allan Holdsworth.

Frank Caruso: Mine are "Highway Star" by Richie Blackmore, maybe the first technical/melodic solo in rock history, "Eruption" by Van Halen and "Satch Boogie" by Joe Satriani.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Will you be planning some live dates in the near future?

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Yup! We just made a few seminars in the Milan area, then we're going to play some showcases inside FNAC CD stores, and we're planning some gigs in France too. We're also planning a clinic tour for Ibanez in Italy.

Frank Caruso: Yes! We already have some gigs on our schedule, we'll be in Milan for a showcase in June, the a master class in Tuscany and Genova. Now we're planning something
in France too.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Frank, you have a couple more things planned for the near future as well, don't you?

Frank Caruso: I never stop. I just finished the last Arachnes album, it will be releaed at the end of the year by Nightmare Records. I also produced a lot of TV material, a song for the Gormiti cartoon with a CD release for Christmas and a couple of
commercials fot Mediaset Premium. I played the Bakugan cartoon title track and a lot of backing tracks for the show "Striscia la Notizia". I started the recordings for a TV movie soundtrack these days. I write for the magazine Computer Music & Project Studio where I test software and guitar hardware. It's pretty useful to be
informed about new stuff on the market to keep my studio updated. I'm working with Sebo on new TV material, that's pretty exciting! I hope to take a break next week!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Gianluca, you are working on some concrete musical ideas, aren't you?

Gianluca Ferro: I'm going to release my new solo album this year, I have great guests on it like Alex del Vecchio (Ian Paice and Glenn Hughes), Nicola Angileri (Jorn Lande, Gotthard), Lorenzo Milani (Udo), Alberto Bollati (Wine Siprit) and the great Edo
Sala. I'm also working on a prog project with Alberto Bollati and Edo Sala, it's going to be something really different, believe me! The first gig will be in Pratteln, Switzerland.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Last, but absolutely not least, Sebo.

Stefano "Sebo" Xotta: Well, I'm recording the UTEZ album, plus I'm writing material for my solo work, but there is no hurry there. I'm also working with Frank on tons of TV shows soundtracks!

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It is not so usual find something new in the overpopulated world of instrumental guitar oriented music, but here we have something that has never happened before. The "three Italian guitar musketeers", armed with a brand new weapon from world famous guitar brand Ibanez from Japan, the RG2228, an eight-string guitar. Multiplying the number of strings for each guitarist, Stefano "Sebo" Xotta, Frank Caruso and Gianluca Ferro, called their band Strings 24. Then they wrote and recorded the music that Lion Music released eponymously in 2009.

Guglielmo Malusardi conducted this previously unreleased triple interview with each of the three "musketeers".